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Chapter Text


Santiago's cell provider didn't screen unwanted callers.

Last year, after a particularly bad blind date, she'd complained loudly in the bullpen about her date's incessant booty call texts and how useless her phone company was at blocking him. She'd resolved the situation herself by showing up at the guy's house to remind him that she carried a weapon.

Jake had filed the phone info away for future reference, sure that it would pay off one day.

That day came two weeks into his undercover assignment as his prospective captain, Leo introduced him to the Iannucci bosses. They loved snarky Jake the ex-cop, but they didn't trust him as far as they could spit. They wanted to put the fear of God in him. Remind him what would happen if he went back on his word and ratted them out.

His grin had flickered a bit. "You'd throw away the friendship bracelets I made?"

Sometime after midnight, Leo pushed him out of a town car into an alley in Brownsville, blood spilling down his chin and chest heaving. The world spun for a moment as Jake figured out which surface was wall and which was pavement. He took in a shuddering gasp of air, letting out a totally manly groan that didn't sound at all like a whimper - he was John McClane and not a kicked puppy, dammit.

Shallow breaths. Shallow breaths meant less kicked-puppy noises. Careful not to twist at the waist, he rolled onto his stomach so he could leverage his elbows to push off the ground rather than forcing his abs to contract over the swollen mass of pain that was his ribcage.

Gang territory in Brownsville shifted every week. He needed to get onto neutral turf before he developed a case of acute lead poisoning. On top of that, Leo would have somebody watching, making sure he didn't run to his cop buddies once the going got tough.

Game face on, Peralta. Make it look good.

Jake grit his teeth and got to his feet. He wiped his bloody chin on the sleeve of his black sweatshirt (such a badass move - but unsanitary). Schooling his face into a neutral mask, he braced one arm around his stomach, hobbled three blocks to the main road, and hailed a cab.

Back at his apartment, he dry swallowed a couple of Tylenol 4s and spent half an hour googling the difference between cracked and broken ribs. His chest was already an impressionist mural of bruises and half-formed boot prints. Jake was surprised - he didn't know his skin could turn that shade of cyan. He considered taking a selfie to save for Boyle (someone had to appreciate this work of art) but gave the idea up as it meant he'd have to stand again.

So there it was. Half past three in the morning and he couldn't find a position comfortable enough to fall asleep without stabbing pain in his side.

And he was bored out of his skull.

But, as he had cleverly noted months ago, Santiago's cell provider didn't screen unwanted callers. He knew she never silenced her phone; she wanted to be available at a moment's notice in case of emergency.

So long as Jake didn't identify himself, who was to say he couldn't have a little fun?

contact. cat lady
sent: 3:36 am

Thank you for signing up for Cat Facts™! You will now receive daily facts about CATS! ω(=^・^=)ω

contact. cat lady
sent: 3:37 am

To kick off your subscription, please enjoy our most popular cat facts. ~(=^‥^)ノ

contact. cat lady
sent: 3:39 am

Cats make about 100 different sounds. Dogs only make about 10. (=^-ω-^=)

contact. cat lady
sent: 3:42 am

The print on a cat’s nose has a unique ridged pattern, like a human fingerprint. (*✧×✧*)

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 3:42 am

whAt the hrll.

Jake smirked at his phone. Huh, it took only four texts to wake Santiago from a dead sleep. His excellent deductive skills told him she was completely out of it or completely hammered, as sober Amy always minded her p's and q's. Better pretend to show mercy.

contact. cat lady
sent: 3:45 am

<To cancel your subscription, please enter 'cancel'.>

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 3:46 am

cancel.

contact. cat lady
sent: 3:48 am

Command not recognized. Your subscription to Cat Facts™ has been extended to a <year>. Me-YOW!

He sent the text with a certain vindictive relish. His stomach muscles contracted lightly with suppressed laughter, sending ripples of fresh pain through his torso. Jake shut his eyes and forced his breathing to even out.

His phone pinged. The touchscreen flared to life with the arrival of a new text, the glow illuminating his dim apartment.

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 3:49 am

CANCEL

contact. cat lady.
sent: 3:51 am

Command not recognized. Please prove to us that you are human by finishing the sentence: Your favorite animal is the _____.

His screen darkened. Would she take the bait?

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 3:52 am

dog

The grin that spread across his face was far more genuine than any he'd offered the Iannucci's today. Oh, Amy. She never missed a good set-up.

contact. cat lady.
sent: 3:55 am

Incorrect. Your favorite animal is the <cat>. You will continue to receive thrilling Cat Facts™ every day. ฅ(*°ω°*ฅ)

contact. cat lady.
sent: 3:56 am
When cats are happy, they may squeeze their eyes shut.

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 3:56 am

GO TO HELL

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 3:57 am

I HAVE WORK IN THREE HOURS.

The laugh that escaped him on receiving the second text was explosive. Jagged lightning bolts of pain flashed across his chest, crawling along his ribs, igniting every nerve and thrusting inverted limbs deep into his muscles. It seared him from the inside and left him gasping for breath.

The glow from the new messages faded by the time he came back to himself. Jake pressed the case against his forehead. He knew it was stupid. But his partner was on the other end of the line. Even if he was annoying her, she was awake and responding to him.

Which meant he was a little less alone on a very dark night.

contact. cat lady.
sent: 4:02 am

If your cat is thrashing its tail, she is in a bad mood - time for you to keep your distance! <To cancel Cat Facts™ , please reply "mwjjjjf542hkbsmejkh24b">.

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 4:04 am

mwjjjjf542hkbsmejkh24b

contact. cat lady.
sent: 4:06 am

You’ve gotta be kitten me! You'd like to cancel? Please prove to us that you are human by finishing the sentence: Your favorite animal is the _____.

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 4:07 am

cat

contact. cat lady.
sent: 4:09 am

Incorrect. You told us your favorite animal is the <dog>. Enjoy your ongoing subscription to Cat Facts™!

contact. cat lady.
sent: 4:10 am
Cats cannot see what is directly under their noses. That is why they seem to lose tidbits on the floor. Aww! ฅ(´-ω-`)ฅ

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 4:11 am

I WILL FIND YOU

Pursing his lips, Jake raised an eyebrow. Not likely. He'd texted her from the phone his handler had given him. She might find the PO Box registered to a fake name that his handler, Special Agent Marx, had set up. But she wouldn't find him. Still, the threat was classic Amy.

He glanced at the time stamp and huffed a shallow sigh. Maybe that was enough torment for the night? If he knew her schedule (and of course he did, he knew everything), she had to wake up at six to make the only breakfast she could manage to not burn (cold cereal), brush her teeth three times, get dressed, and stop at that little coffee shop before making it in to the precinct.

Alright. Time to relent.

contact. cat lady.
sent: 4:13 am

This concludes your introduction to the exciting world of Cat Facts™. Welcome to the service! Have a purr-fect day!

contact. cat lady.
rcvd: 4:14 am

DIE IN A FIRE

Jake clutched a pillow to his chest, letting its fluffy gentle pressure absorb the vibrations from his chuckles.

Goodnight, Amy.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, when Agent Marx pulled a report of messages sent from Jake's phone, he was less than amused to see a couple dozen messages sent to Santiago's personal number. Jake spent forty minutes getting reamed out by his handler for threatening the integrity of the operation.

Man, he never thought he'd meet a guy with a worse sense of humor than Holt.

Jake sat stiffly in the chair, slowly grinding his teeth. When Marx implied that Santiago was in on the scheme and had passed him coded replies, he lost his cool. Shouted something about how sorry he was for wanting to blow off some steam after getting the shit kicked out of him on the FBI's dime.

Marx' nostrils flared. He rose to his feet behind his desk, all of his alpha male-ness rising to the forefront. "This is what you signed up for, Peralta. 'Eyes closed, head first, can't lose,' remember?"

Jake didn't do alpha male confrontations. He preferred to throw the dog a bone, then run and lock it inside the kennel while he was busy chewing.

"Fine. Whatever. I won't send Santiago anymore Cat Facts." Jake replied, sinking down in his chair. He added the 'trademark' mentally.

Satisfied, Marx settled back in his chair. "Good. Show me you're worth the trouble, Peralta."

A sour taste flooded his mouth.

 


 

It was sticky and humid in the warehouse. A bead of sweat trickled between Jake's shoulder blades. Staring down the barrel of his .357, Jake hoped this was worth the trouble.


This morning he'd been so certain of the rightness of this assignment. He'd sunk himself into the role of Jake Peralta, budding mafioso.

True to his word, he hadn't sent Amy any more Cat Facts™. He had, however, downloaded an anonymous texting app onto the phone he used for contacting the Iannuccis. Storing her as a contact was too risky, so he typed her number out by memory, deleted the app, and re-installed it every time he felt the need to text her fake ads for Viagra and timeshares in the Bahamas. 

Over time, the throbbing pain in his ribs faded into uncomfortable twinges. He managed to find a sleeping position that didn't cause him to wake up gasping for breath, so his spam texts had been more sporadic.

That morning Jake sent off a quick text claiming to be a Nigerian prince in need of a loan. He was actually hoping to follow that up for funsies, if he got some down time.

Which was looking less and less likely.

The bosses still didn't trust him. He wouldn't be a full soldier until he killed somebody and two family members vouched for him with their lives. Marx was working on a way to stage a hit, but nothing had come through just yet. In the meantime, Leo sent him everywhere with a babysitter, a guy named Derek with impossibly perfect cheekbones who smelled like pastrami. 

It was supposed to be a simple job: pick up a shipment from a fence, Eddie Vongola, and deliver it to Leo's buddy's place in the Meatpacking District. The bosses had arranged payment in advance. It was supposed to be a done deal. Jake was starting to tire of straightforward courier jobs like this.

Then it all went to hell.

The shipment turned out to be assault rifles, not stolen car parts, and Vongola claimed he'd never been paid for them. Before they could protest, a black Escalade rolled up and a crew of heavily armed One-Niners unloaded. Jake did his best to defuse the situation with his signature wit. One thing led to another and he and Derek were facing a standoff between the One-Niners and Vongola's bodyguards (and Jake was pretty sure they moonlighted as human boulders). The lieutenant in charge of the One-Niners was in his mid-twenties, about Terry's height, but at least two of his guys had to be teenagers. He could see the tremble in their grip and was suddenly reminded that he was the only person in the room with any real weapons training.

Derek was pissed, swearing up and down that Vongola would pay for this. Jake was all for getting out of there. He really didn't want to shoot a kid today. Please, God, he didn't want to shoot a kid today.

He didn't know who fired the first shot.

Vongola took the second shot in his arm, the third in his head.

Then Derek went down.

Jake fired a couple of shots at Vongola's guys before losing track of who was hiding where. A crate exploded next to his head and the world went silent for a moment. The rest of the fight was lost in a haze of bullets, sweat and terror.

He remembered pulling Derek out of the warehouse, ducking low behind some stacked crates and using a fireman's drag to carry him to the door. So close to freedom, the way out was blocked - by the glazed eyes of a teenage boy, his mouth hanging slightly open in surprise. The boy's chest was a red ruin, his finger still resting on the trigger of an AR-15.

Jake's stomach twisted and he nudged the body aside with his foot. He pulled Derek outside, maneuvered him into their sedan, hastily duct taped a chamois to the ugly wound seeping blood down his front, and peeled away. The mobster had taken a bullet to the shoulder. By the time they hit asphalt, Derek had stopped responding to his bellowing.  

Heart pounding and ears ringing intermittently, Jake pulled over midway to the safe house to check on Derek by punching him in the makeshift bandage. Not even a flinch. Good.

Jake pulled out his phone, wiping Derek's blood on his pant leg, and texted Marx his panic code. Asked him to send cops and an ambulance. Kids in danger.

Then, given Derek's sluggish pulse, he called to report to Leo. Told him Derek had been shot. Pinned the blame for the shitty deal on Vongola and told them to get a doctor to the safe house, pronto. 

So what if he was shouting; it was loud in the warehouse. This whole situation was way too Reservoir Dogs for his liking.

Adrenaline beat a steady tattoo against Jake's temple, resonating down through his jaw with white-hot fury. No matter how freaked out he was about the kids at the warehouse (did I kill him are they dead did I do it oh my God was it me how can i ever go back), he had to keep a cool head. If the Iannuccis flipped out about the One-Niners trying to bogart their deal, he could be an undercover cop in the midst of a full-blown gang war.

Jake pictured Holt's stoic face, his monotone voice commanding him to get a grip.

He was trying. It was tough to get a grip when his ears were ringing and his fingers were still sticky with blood.

Marco and Paulie unloaded Derek from the passenger's seat as soon as the sedan stopped rolling. Jake took a second to gather himself before following behind. Leo met him in the kitchen and listened to his full report. By the time he'd finished, Jake's mouth tasted like sawdust from exploding crates and copper.

Leo clapped him on the shoulder, congratulating him on a job well done.

Jake remembered a dead kid in the doorway and threw up in the kitchen sink.

That was around the time they realized that there was blood coming out of Jake's left ear.

When he was finished with Derek, the doctor spent some time peering into Jake's ear with a penlight and making various noises at a few different distances. The doctor diagnosed him with a perforated eardrum and slipped him a card for an audiologist in the family. Recommended showering with a cap over his ear until he saw a specialist and remarked that these things usually resolved themselves in a month or so - non c'è problema.

Jake felt nauseous again.

A series of old guys started showing up at the safe house. They spoke in rapid Italian and had endless questions for Jake. As the sun slipped below the horizon, all he wanted to do was curl up and forget the day had ever happened.

Ever the supportive captain, Leo smiled and reminded him that he'd done a great job today. They'd gone into a trap and come out alive. Some cops had picked up Vongola's guys, but they would get theirs. He'd saved Derek's life. He'd bled for the family. He'd killed for the family. The bosses were sure to make him a soldier now, so why did he look so worried?

Jake put a hand to the side of his head and begged an earache.

Leo told him to take a day or so before coming back. See a doctor. Rest up. They had big plans for him.

Somebody dropped Jake off at his apartment, but he was too tired to care who it was and why they knew where he lived. After the adrenaline faded from his system, his blood sugar crashed. His hands were trembling so hard that he had trouble unlocking his door. 

Somewhere between the warehouse and the safe house, he'd lost his leather jacket. His undershirt was stained with dirt and sweat. Another part of him would have been freaking out over how Bruce Willis his shirt was, but his mind was locked on the still-shocked eyes of that dead kid.

Jake downed another couple of T4s, chasing them down with an apple that tasted like wood chips. Halfway through his shower the sugar hit his bloodstream and the shakes eased up. Shit, a firefight hadn't freaked him out like this since the academy (what was Rosa going to think she'd never look at him again if she knew if she knew if they knew). Then again, it wasn't every day that he might have killed a kid.

On the bathroom sink, his touchscreen lit up. The display read, '7 MISSED CALLS,' and Marx was calling again. Well, he couldn't put this off forever. 

Jake impressed himself with how steady he managed to keep his voice. Ever the professional, Marx pulled the whole story out of him with sterile efficiency. Let him know that he'd been defending his life and his cover against people trying to kill him. Told him not to worry.

If Marx congratulated him on a job well done, Jake was going to pitch his phone out the window.

His handler soothed one of his worries by reporting that the 72nd precinct were the first on scene at the warehouse. (At least his friends wouldn't be cataloging his bullets and bloody jacket.) They had one of Vongola's guards and two of the One-Niners in custody. There was a juvenile in the hospital and four DOAs at the scene. 

Jake pleaded to see a copy of the ballistics report when it was completed. He didn't think that he'd killed anyone, but he couldn't be certain until the coroner had matched wounds with bullets and signed off on each of the autopsies, and it would drive him crazy until he knew for sure.

The line was quiet for a moment. Marx agreed. Said it would be a couple of days, but he would try and lean on the captain over there to get it rushed through.

Jake thanked him. No bullshit this time.

He ended the call and collapsed on his bed. Wondered how he'd pass a couple of days without sleeping. He closed his eyes. 

In the quiet of his bedroom, the ringing in his ears demanded his full attention.

Jake pulled a pillow over his head. Groaned. That was even worse.

Tossing the pillow at the wall, he sat up slowly. His janky ear clamoured for attention, refusing to balance like a normal ear and sending his head spinning. He grabbed a blanket and made his way to the living room, playing through his voicemails as he went.

Marx hanging up. Gina asking where he'd been. His mom crying into the machine, begging him to call her back for once. Marx hanging up. Marx hanging up. His mom again. Marx hanging up.

Jake flopped onto the couch and deleted everything. There was a Nets game in his DVR that he'd been meaning to catch. He let that play at a low volume, just loud enough to drown out the tinnitus.

After a moment of thought, he deleted and re-installed the texting app. He wanted to start from a new number. No Nigerian prince tonight.

He dialed Santiago's number without thinking.

contact. bar chick
sent: 10:49 pm

yoooo claire, i had a great time with u

contact. bar chick
sent: 10:52 pm

ur so much fun im so glad i met u

contact. bar chick
sent: 10:55 pm

u round tonigt?? hit me back plz

Time passed. He tried to focus on the game, but waves of lingering anxiety threatened to drag him into the black whenever he stopped moving. He was sinking into the mire of the Mafia, and it was becoming harder and harder to divorce himself from the role he was playing. How could he call himself a cop if he was running guns to put in the hands of gangsters and shooting at kids? If the outcome was the same, was he any different than they were? How could he go back on the other side of the badge and look himself in the eye if he was just as guilty as any other Iannucci?  

He wished he had a time machine so he could travel back to the moment right before he'd taken this assignment and punch himself in the face.

His earache muscled its way through the T4s and began drilling a hole in his brain.

Jake rubbed at his eyes, letting out a frustrated sigh. Taking the medication was a mistake. He should've started with whiskey instead.

Wandering hands found his phone, sending a text off into the night before his head had a chance to catch up.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:09 pm

i miss u

That was embarrassing. At least Santiago had started to ignore his texts. No way she'd respond to a drunk stranger with a wrong number-

The touchscreen glowed. 

1 UNREAD MESSAGE.

He squinted at his phone. Seriously?

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:11 pm

Sorry, I think you've got the wrong number.

Well, if she chose to engage with a drunk stranger, she deserved what she got.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:15 pm

:O srsly? ur not claire?

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:17 pm

No, sorry about that.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:18 pm

ooo i get it

Jake paused a moment, a smile teasing the corner of his mouth for the first time that day as he considered his reply. 

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:19 pm

hard 2 get

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:21 pm

No, you've really got the wrong number.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:22 pm

sure i do ;)

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:24 pm

Yes, you do.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:25 pm

hah i knew it

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:26 pm

claire bby where u at?

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:27 pm

This is not Claire.   

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:29 pm  

haha so wat we're u doing last nigt if u werent at the gansevoort w me?

Friday night. Santiago usually volunteered for the late shift if she didn't have plans, but since she'd started going out with Teddy, her weekends had become a little more full. He had to admit, he was curious. But if she had special plans with her boyfriend, she probably wouldn't discuss that with a stranger, right?

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:31 pm

Arresting a drug dealer.  

Nice work, Santiago.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:32 pm

sounds hot.  

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:33 pm 

Yeah, booking procedure is downright sexy. I love me some paperwork.

Jake snorted. She really did. Sounded like she was trying to make him stop. Change of plans...

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:35 pm

wait so u rly arent claire? we had such a good time tho

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:36 pm
 

i made her breakfast. eggs and bacon. y would she give me a fake number/ :(

Sure, it was a grab for pity, but at least it might make Santiago think her mystery texter was a halfway decent guy. It might buy him a few more minutes before she started ignoring him again.

A few minutes passed. The second quarter of the basketball game came to an end. He was nearly paying attention, but he kept glancing at his phone impatiently. Just as he was thinking of a way to keep the conversation going, his touchscreen lit up.

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:40 pm 

Maybe she's vegetarian?

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:41 pm

lol. mabye. 

Jake drummed his fingers on the couch. Wondering if his question was pushing his luck too far.

Well, he couldn't make this night much worse. Why not.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:43 pm

so ur a lady, right?

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:44 pm

is ther e away i can catch up w her w/o lookng like a total creeper?

A little text bubble appeared with three dots in it. She was typing. The bubble lingered, then disappeared. 

A minute or so ticked by without response. Shit, he'd ruined it. Last ditch attempt to make his text persona look somewhat human.

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:48 pm 

i mean i kno wat no means but i didnt get that vibe from claire. coulda been an acident and mabye shes looking for me

contact. bar chick
sent: 11:49 pm

givn her the beffinit of the dobt

The commercials ended as half time came to a close. He brought a hand to his left ear to make sure there wasn't a sharp object stabbing into his ear canal. Nothing. Just his janky ear trying to make him hate everything that made noise. His solutions were either to mix acetaminophen with alcohol (and he wasn't that dumb) or to get creative.

Vague memories of childhood earaches came back to him. He thought about his mom and how she'd had a fix for everything, even when they couldn't afford the doctor's visits. One of these days he'd have to get her recipe for matzo ball soup - but not this day.

He pushed himself off the couch with a grunt. Vertigo returned with a vengeance, sending the room spinning like the worst carnival ride ever. One with an incessant, piercing drone instead of muzak and no seatbelts. He stumbled to the bathroom and watched his apple magically reappear. Spitting out a mouthful of bile into the toilet, he rested his head against the cool tile until the ground solidified under his feet. Ugh. Now he'd have to wait until his stomach settled again to eat something.

There was a reason he'd gotten up. Moving slower now to avoid reawakening the raging dizzy-beast, Jake grabbed a clean smelling sock from his hamper and filled it with dry rice, then tied the top in a knot and threw the whole thing in the microwave for a couple of minutes. He grabbed a ginger ale from the cupboard and sipped at it to pass the time.

He wondered about the dead boy. What his name was, what his family would do when they found out what happened to him. Jake wondered what would happen to him if a gang war broke out. Would the Nine Nine find his body or would it be in too many pieces to reassemble?

The microwave beeped.

Jake grabbed the rice sock and pressed it to his ear, moaning in relief. The warmth from the sock was magic against the swelling and pressure inside his ear. He returned to the couch so he could rest the sock against his face. 

The Nets were down by 5, but he had faith in them. He watched the game for a couple minutes before glancing at his phone, only to realize he'd missed a notification.

So she hadn't given up on him?

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:52 pm

You could try the Gansevoort again - see if she's a regular. Maybe she'll go back next week?

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 11:59 pm

What do you think?

His reply was lightning fast.

contact. bar chick
sent: 12:05 am

sry hit the br

contact. bar chick
sent: 12:06 am

smart. i'll give it a try. if she still wnats to reject me she can always do it 2 my face 

Hoping he sounded self-deprecating instead of challenging, Jake eyed the gray ellipses bubble until it faded, to be replaced with Santiago's green reply.

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 12:08 am

Maybe she won't.

contact. bar chick
sent: 12:09 am

maybe. then :) 

Jake hesitated. Some of the questions he'd asked could be incriminating if anyone decided to go through his phone. He really didn't want to lose the number he'd been texting Santiago from. It looked like he'd have to be a bit more careful with clearing his history and keeping his phone locked. Leo would understand; most people got a bit more guarded following near-death experiences.

contact. bar chick
sent: 12:11 am

ok if i tell u how it goes?

The gray ellipses bubble lingered a moment too long. 

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 12:12 am

Sure. Good luck.

contact. bar chick
sent: 12:12 am

ty. night not claire.

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 12:14 am

Goodnight. What's your name?

contact. bar chick
sent: 12:16 am

matt

contact. bar chick
rcvd: 12:16 am

Goodnight, Matt.  

Jake smiled at his phone until the screen went black.

Chapter Text

They brought him in with the last car. Fire Marshall Boone dragged Jake out of the basement, where he'd been checking the last cells to make sure that everyone was out. Boone was sending someone for a tank of oxygen when the Sarge came by to cuff him.

 

To his credit, Boone looked properly shocked to see Jake arrested. It was only a moment before the Marshall's face contorted into familiar disgust.

Marco and the Iannuccis at the scene were swearing up a storm, outraged at being charged with a crime when their building had been attacked. As soon as Jake could stop coughing long enough to talk, his voice was right there among them.

He was pretty worked up by the time they reached the Nine Nine. All his pent-up frustration came pouring out in a tirade of vitrol. His squad had seen him fake-mad, but this was unpolished rage. This was four months of isolation and one funeral too many.

He bucked and wrestled in Terry's grip until his mostly-healed ribs protested. They passed Boyle in the hall, escorting Tony Vongola to Interrogation One. Trying to get himself sent to the drunk tank to cool down, Jake barely paused in his struggle. Boyle, on the other hand, went pale.

That was fair. Today wasn't one of Jake's handsomest days. He'd caught his shoulder on a chain link fence in the basement and it was still sluggishly oozing blood. Besides the streaks of soot and the heavy smell of smoke overpowering his shitty cologne, the right side of his face was still covered in a massive bruise from a run-in he'd had with Paulie. Paulie'd hit him so hard he'd burst a blood vessel in Jake's eye. He thought that most of the red had cleared up, but the smoke must have aggravated it again. Damn it. Then there was the piercing that Derek had convinced him to get in his bad ear (he had a bad ear now, god, he was so old). Derek had been gunning for matching tattoos after his bullet wound healed up, but Jake talked him down to the ear piercing that he knew his mom would hate.

And that thought set him off again.

He yanked at his cuffs afresh, snarling at Boyle to mind his fucking business. His best friend flinched and scooted down the hall.

Finally he was alone.

Alone in Interrogation Two, but alone nonetheless.

Sagging against the steel table, Jake told himself he was conserving his energy for the coming confrontation. Really, he was just exhausted. His throat was raw from shouting; his head pounded from the carbon monoxide exposure and he felt like he hadn't slept in days (had he ever really slept?), but some deep part of him felt vindicated. Even if today was his last day on the case, it would be worth it.

They let him stew in the interrogation room for two hours. He would have almost been insulted, had he not known that Tony was keeping them busy. He'd fallen into a light doze when the door slammed shut, waking him with a start. Marx crossed the room swiftly, his face set in a firm scowl.

"Afternoon, Agent. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Jake said, slouching in his chair over his bruised ribs. He spat Marx' title like it was a curse, his voice sounding like he'd taken a cheese grater to his vocal chords.

"Is this a joke to you, Peralta?" Marx sneered. 

Jake leaned back in his chair, lifting his chin slightly. "I think you're a joke, but that's nothing new."

Marx glanced over his bruised face and soot-stained clothes. "You look like shit, but that's not new, either."

His handler held up a stack of files and started dropping pictures on the table - high quality photos of the exterior of the old Studebaker factory that had just been raided. Shots of several members of the Iannucci family, shots of scared-looking kids through the factory window, shots of kids being put into unmarked gray trucks. Vongola's credit card statements with purchases from the last few days highlighted. A detailed diagram of the firebombs that brought half the NYFD screaming across town. And finally, a signed confession.

"Tony Vongola is a florist." Marx announced, sitting down in the chair across from him and folding his hands. "Somehow a florist conducts delicate surveillance on the crime syndicate that got his brother killed, teaches himself to make an incendiary device, firebombs the building that just so happens to be the headquarters of the Iannucci's human trafficking operation, calls to tip off the cops in advance, and I'm supposed to believe you have nothing to do with this?"

Jake shrugged, smirking darkly. "You gotta watch those florists, man. They work with fertilizer all day, might start getting ideas. You ever hear of a demolitions expert called Vincenzo Santorini?"

Marx slammed his hand down on the table. "Peralta, I know you had a part in this. There's no way a civilian would have the know-how to pull off this kind of job without killing everyone inside."

"Well, it's a good thing I was in there, wasn't it?" Jake snapped back, his eyes flashing.

The FBI agent's calm demeanor flickered. "Don't fuck with me, Peralta. I know you provoked Vongola into doing your dirty work."

"Cool story, bro, but you're gonna have to prove it." He gestured to the pile of documents, scanning Vongola's statement with apparent casualness. It looked like it was all in order. "Everything you've got is circumstantial. Looks to me like Tony Vongola confessed to the whole plot."

"Only because you coached him into confessing in exchange for witness protection. You revealed your identity to an unstable civilian and turned him into a criminal to spare yourself a little discomfort." Marx' face was a stone mask. His hands, clutched into fists on the table, were his only outward sign of distress.

"Fuck you." Jake lurched forward, his steel chair scraping against the concrete. The handcuffs prevented him from rising too far, but the look in his eye was nothing short of deadly. "I kept my head down. I took all their shit. This isn't about my fucking comfort. This is about you not having the balls to stop kids from being sold to the sickest bastards on the planet."

His handler appeared neither intimidated nor impressed. "You short-sighted dumbass. You didn't stop anything - you just slowed them down. The only way to stop it for good is to arrest every last one of the Iannucci bosses. There's a cost, Peralta, a cost to making sure this operation doesn't start up again somewhere else as soon as the smoke settles. These things take time."

Jake's nostrils flared. He sorted through the photos on the table and found an image of a wide-eyed girl with long brown braids being escorted into a truck. His voice growing and louder as he went on. "I counted sixty-three kids just like her pass through that door and onto the trucks. Does that cost seem right to you? By the time the trial comes around, those kids could be anywhere on the-" He stopped as his ragged vocal chords protested the abuse. He grimaced, tilting head away from Marx and scoffing. "Forget it. I'm not doing this again."

Marx squinted. "What's your problem, Peralta? Is this personal? Is this about the funeral?"

Jake sank back into his chair, crossing his arms at the wrists. He looked away. "No, it's not about the fucking funeral. Why would I be pissed that you made me keep my mom's death a secret? Why would something like that bother me?" 

"Did you do what I told you?"

He shrugged lightly, his gaze drifting to the floor.

Marx leaned in closer. "Did you do it?"

"Look, Paulie had it coming. He was making Holocaust jokes while I sat shiva. He deserved more than a punch in the face." Jake clenched his hands, his lip curling in disgust. He raised his chin and glared up at Marx. "But I did it. I apologized to that son of a bitch, and now he thinks I hung the moon."

"He had better." Marx folded his arms across his chest, setting his shoulders back. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't shut this whole operation down right now."

"Because I didn't start the fire."

"Bullshit. A good reason."

His face twitched. Jake mirrored his handler's pose as best he could, lifting his chin and summoning all the Mafia arrogance he'd learned to affect. "Because I'm expensive. You wanna take the Iannuccis down? Good luck finding anyone else who can take my place. I'm a soldier now. You think they'll let anybody else get as close as I am once they know I'm a cop?"

"What if I don't out you as a cop - what if I just dump you in the Hudson?" Marx replied in a dangerously soft voice, his expression returning to stone.

Like that would ever happen. Jake chuckled, a harsh sound like gravel crunching underneath a boot. He shook his head. "Get fucked."

"Listen Peralta, I'm not pulling you out of a fire again. Look at me - look at my face." Marx leaned to the side, gesturing vaguely at the one-way mirror behind him. "You think I give a flying fuck that your captain's watching? One more stunt like this - just one - and I will let you swing in the wind."

The blood drained from his face. Holt was here? Jake tried to straighten up, but his fight with the arresting officers made it hard to sit up properly. He masked a wince (badly) and settled for a slightly stiffer position, looking anywhere besides the glass.

Marx continued. "So do us all a favor. Keep your goddamn head down and your fat fucking mouth shut. Are we clear?"

Jake bristled, shifting in his chair. "Yes." 

"Yes what?" Marx pressed.

His lip curled. A half dozen vile responses flickered through his mind, but none that he'd willingly repeat in front of his CO. Instead, Jake ground out, "Yes. Sir."

Marx nodded curtly. He put Vongola's files back in order, sweeping out of the room - but not forgetting to slam the door behind himself.

Jake flinched again, tilting his bad ear away from the concussive force. His jaw tensed and his breath came in angry bursts. He shut his eyes and fought the urge to pound his fist on the table, uncomfortably exposed now that he knew his superior officer was right on the other side of the glass.

A soft click as the intercom came on. He heard the faint hum of computers in the observation room. Then came a low breath. "Don't mess this up, Peralta." Holt's words were chastening, but his monotone was as gentle as Jake had ever heard it.

Jake sighed and shook the tension from his shoulders, resting his bruised face on the cool metal of the table in front of him.

"I'm trying." He replied, his throat hoarse.

The intercom clicked again. A longer pause. Then, Holt. "I'm sorry to hear about your mother."

Half-healed scars tore open from the first condolences offered by someone who mattered to him. Jake was glad that his expression was hidden by the table. Raw fingers of grief squeezed at his stomach, contorting his face into something twisted and painful. His shoulders trembled as he fought for composure. 

"Thanks."


In an entirely unsurprising twist of fate, none of the evidence incriminated Jake - only the lower level thugs who directly ran the human trafficking operation. Jake swaggered out of the precinct surrounded by Iannuccis, trying not to make eye contact with anyone he knew. 

Too stiff to make it up the ladder to his loft bedroom, Jake crashed on his couch again that night, wondering how much sleep he'd get before the nightmares struck. Halfway through his second glass of whiskey, Jake realized something hilarious. The safest place he'd felt in a months was sitting in an interrogation room in the Nine Nine. That was why he'd fallen asleep so quickly.

No other place was safe for him anymore. The Iannuccis had stolen that from him.

Shit. Two Drink Jake was getting dark these days.

His phone pinged as he poured another glass.

3 UNREAD MESSAGES

contact. not claire
rcvd: 2:39 pm

Haven't heard from you in a few days.  Are you okay, Matt? 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 4:46 pm

How did that thing with your mom go? Want to grab a drink?

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 8:50 pm

I'm out with some friends if you'd like to meet up.

She'd been doing that recently. Offering to meet. Jake wondered if she suspected something about him and was trying to smoke out a rat. 

Maybe she really was concerned. True to his word, Jake had kept her informed of the wacky misadventures of Matt and Claire. Those crazy kids just kept missing each other, so of course he had to keep texting Santiago with updates when another scheme went awry. He consulted her on fake date plans, keeping his questions abstract so she never felt pressured to share concrete details with a mysterious stranger. While laid up from a job gone bad, he'd decided it was time for his fictional star-crossed-lovers to get together. He texted her the story of their first real date and Santiago's responding glee had been tangible.

Lately, though, pretending to be happy-go-lucky Matt had become more difficult. His handler had no pity for the mornings that Jake woke up too stiff to move. Consequently, he'd had a lot of practice pushing through his aches and pains with a wide smile on his face. Long days of lying to or avoiding everyone he knew took their toll; at the end of the day, Jake craved something that was real. When he got the news, Jake had left Santiago a vague message about his mom being in the hospital and dropped off the face of the earth while he plotted admittedly elaborate revenge on both Marx and the Iannuccis.

 

contact. not claire
sent: 8:55 pm

no thx. drinkin alonee tonigt. haha

Laugh riot. Three Drink Jake wasn't much funner than Two Drink Jake. Maybe Four Drink Jake would be better.

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:02 pm

Are you alright?

 

contact. not claire
sent: 9:06 pm

no

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:06 pm

What happened?

contact. not claire
sent: 9:11 pm

mom sdead

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:12 pm

Oh my God.

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:13 pm

I'm so sorry.

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:14 pm

What do you need?

He laughed. So many things. His friends. His freedom. A good night's sleep. To not feel compelled to look over his shoulder every ten seconds.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:16 pm

a time machine. got ona those hangign around?

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:17 pm

Sorry, I'm fresh out.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:20 pm

sokay. no hard feelingz

He froze, looking down at his outbox. Shit. Shit. He'd typed that with a 'z'. She was going to figure him out. He should delete the app and turn himself in right now. Amy would never talk to him again.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:22 pm

fukc im sorry for botherin u

contact. not claire
sent: 9:23 pm

u got friends and whatevs i shuld leave u alone

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:23 pm

You're not bothering me.

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:24 pm

But, if you're not comfortable talking to me, is there someone in your family you can talk to about this?

Four Drink Jake was even worse than his predecessors. At least he was honest, though.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:29 pm

no family. just me

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:30 pm

Could you talk to Claire, at least? I'm sure she'd want to know how you're doing.

He snorted. He was awesome at this undercover thing. Everyone believed the act. Way to fucking go, Jake.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:33 pm

ya mabye

If she existed. If his loneliness weren't such a complete and crushing thing that he put on every morning, overtop the gaudy mafia clothes he wore to remind himself how much he hated the persona he was portraying.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:43 pm

listen u were rlly nice to a totals tranger so ty for that

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:44 pm

You're welcome. I thought we might have graduated from strangers to weird texting acquaintances by now, though.

Jake's smile broke. He'd strung her along for too many nights, stolen too much of her sleep. It wasn't fair to anyone. Time to push delete on this app for realsies and let Santiago get back to her life.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:46 pm

ya well i gotta get my shit togehter

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:47 pm

What are you going to do?

contact. not claire
sent: 9:49 pm

goin away for a while. dont worry about me

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:50 pm

Of course I'm going to worry if you put it like that.

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:52 pm

Matt?

contact. not claire
sent: 9:54 pm

plz dont worry im really not worht tha t much

contact. not claire
sent: 9:55 pm

Shut up, you absolutely are. Pick up your damn phone already.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:56 pm

bye not claire

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:56 pm

MATT YOU ASSHOLE PICK UP YOUR PHONE

Six Drink Jake was indeed an asshole and didn't explain that the app wouldn't let him take incoming calls.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DELETE "TXT TIME" AND ALL ITS DATA?

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:57 pm

MATT!

Six Drink Jake was an asshole. 

CONFIRM.